Effingham Gas Station on Freedom Select Board’s Monday Agenda

Freedom—March 17, 2022—The proposed gas station at the former Boyle’s Market on Route 25 in Effingham will be on the Freedom Select Board’s agenda this Monday the 21st at 7 p.m. Anticipating a large turnout, the meeting was switched from the Town Office to Town Hall.

Freedom is one of nine towns to receive notice from Effingham’s Planning Board that the gas station is a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) because of its proximity to the Ossipee Aquifer, the primary source of drinking water for the area’s businesses and residents.

The DRI designation gives affected towns “limited abutter” status. They must be notified of meetings about the development, and may provide testimony in writing or at public hearings. In essence, it provides a ‘seat at the table’ in the discussion.

By putting the matter on Monday’s agenda, the Freedom board is providing an opportunity for the community to weigh-in on the controversial issue, which has been widely publicized since last year when Effingham’s ZBA overruled its Aquifer Protection Ordinance to grant a variance for the station.

An appeal of the ZBA approval is pending in Superior Court while the site plan application is being reviewed by Effingham Planning Board officials and, now, will be examined by nine other towns that are potentially affected.

Meena LLC, the applicant of record for the gas station, is a Conway business entity headed by Pankaj “Prince” Garg. His agent for the development is Mark McConkey.

The Freedom Select Board on Monday acknowledged receiving the DRI notice, but could not engage with the half dozen people who were in attendance to discuss it because the board had not received the site plan application, which details construction and operating plans.

Jean Marshall, who represents Freedom on the Lakes Region Planning Commission, provided the documents to the town the next day in time for the Conservation Commission to review them prior to its Tuesday night meeting.

Conservation Commission Chair Jeff Nicoll said the group was tasked with assessing the plan and writing a letter for the Select Board, which will then engage with the community on Monday night.

Yesterday, Ossipee Lake Alliance and Green Mountain Conservation Group sent a joint letter to members of the main boards of all the DRI-designated towns to ensure they understood their DRI rights and had access to the plan.

The letter detailed what the two non-profit groups believe are shortcomings in the application, including unaddressed liability issues and “unusual and unwarranted” waiver requests and “deviations from legally-required protocols.”

They also sent a link to a video by Ossipee Aquifer expert Dr. Robert Newton, who has called the proposed site the “worst possible location” for a gas station because it is a former gravel pit with highly transmissive soils.

Newton has pointed to gas spills around the state as “a common hazard” of the gas station business. He said mitigation of a major spill at the Boyle’s site—from either an underground or above-ground spill—would likely only be partially successful because of the highly transmissive soils found there, which were made more vulnerable because of the previous gravel extraction.

“The only realistic solution would be for affected property owners to find a new source of drinking water,” he said in the video, which has been viewed more than 800 times.

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